Truck Talk

By on November 3, 2011
RoadKing Mag

Anyone who drives or works with trucks knows that it is now an electronic world. In the old days when vehicles used electrical systems rather than computer chips, all a driver had to alert them that something might be wrong with their truck was a gauge or indicator light. Beyond that we didn’t have much information. A “Check Engine” light doesn’t tell you much.

Today’s electronics provide operators with better information about the condition of their vehicle. That information is critical in letting the driver know if the vehicle must be brought in for service immediately, or if they can safely defer to a later time when it is more convenient.

Translating truck talk

A vehicle with a modern electronic package may have 15 different computers at work on different parts of the truck. They don’t all speak the same language, so the information they deliver goes through a central gateway, an interpreter of computer language that can alert the truck driver when something needs attention.

If the driver ignores the initial warning — typically an indicator light comes on — then the light will start flashing. Still ignored after a period of time, the light will turn red. If the driver still keeps pushing — We call it “driving through the lights” — the computer controller will shut the engine down in an effort to save components and keep the vehicle from being out of compliance with environmental standards.

The system will do everything it can to keep the engine from damaging itself, but there is no guarantee. We still see blown engines, even with the most sophisticated equipment, but we don’t see as many catastrophic failures as we did in the electrical age.

What the driver needs to know

With more sophisticated equipment, truck operators need to spend time learning about how the warning strategies on it work. We are long past a temperature gauge and oil pressure gauge. Now there are multiple light strategies, multiple displays. It is absolutely necessary to read the operator’s manual and get a good understanding of what the truck’s computers or controllers are communicating.

Drivers also must ensure that any servicing location that works on the equipment is qualified to do so. Go to a reputable service facility that has trained and qualified technicians who know how to maintain that equipment.

Everyone should read

A cultural shift has to take place with both drivers and technicians. There was a time in the business when it was frowned on for technicians to look at manuals when they worked. It was seen as evidence that they weren’t very smart or experienced.

Today, if a tech is not looking at a manual, I’m going to ask why. Looking up information is not a bad thing. Sometimes the industry is intolerant about this because there is still a perception that a good technician should just know how to diagnose and fix a truck. I have not met the tech who can remember all the procedures necessary to do that these days.

A lot of electronics are proprietary to the OEM. So yes, a tech must know the fundamentals, but then must depend on the most recent service literature to correctly repair a vehicle. OEMs update service literature often, so the truck repair and service field is evolving from print to electronic publications.

This is the electronics age and that means that maintenance and repair will constantly evolve. We are going to see the introduction of electronic test equipment that will require technician and frontline management training to understand how to maximize the performance on equipment. We’ll also see more e-learning environments that will provide real-time training on vehicles and diagnostic equipment, but we must not neglect hands-on training in an effort to reduce costs.

These sophisticated electronics mean that operators will see less downtime because they will know to bring the truck in for service before a major failure occurs. It means a reduction in diagnostics time, so we should see an increase in vehicle uptime.

All of these changes are good for the industry, good for drivers and good for technicians.

Homer Hogg is Maintenance Supervisor for TA and Petro. He is a Daimler Certified Trainer, Ryder Master Technician and a member of the Nashville Auto Diesel College Hall of Fame.

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